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Performance Welding Handbook — 2nd Edition

Book Review

by Ryan King

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I have a great deal of interest in welding, but making good welds in high-stress structures such as cars (especially race cars) and airplanes is a delicate and precise process that requires a kind of precision not found in other welding disciplines.


Penetration. You have to have flawless penetration if you are going to have a safe joining of two pieces that will hold up under the stresses seen at high speed. That may not seem to be that big a deal, but as the author points out, a weld that will work for construction or building a boat trailer, isn't good enough with race cars and airplanes, and will get drivers, pilots, and passengers killed. Consequently, welding takes on a whole new level of precision when it has to be perfect every time.

That means techniques, equipment, and materials must be at a higher level — not just sometimes, but every time.

Taking the welding process to that level is what this book is all about. Author Richard Finch — a certified welder and former consultant to NASA — does an excellent job conveying this complex, tedious subject in an easy to read and enjoyable manner with the expertise of a lifetime of welding at this level.

Read on and get a glimpse of what this authoritative book has to offer.

The Book


Reading a well-written book by someone who knows what they are doing is a pleasure, and in most of the books I have read, if the author knows what he or she is doing, even the introduction offers important information to learn — usually in the form of the author's philosophy — which sets the mood for the rest of the book. Richard Finch and the Performance Welding Handbook are no different. He touches on several important points about high technology welding, as well as current and outdated information which has no place in racecar or aerospace welding, and along the way, shares his frank style and views on what welding should be.

Chapter 1: Comparing Welding Processes: TIG, MIG, and Oxyacetylene

As the title of the chapter indicates, it's about comparing the three most common racecar and aerospace welding methods. The author takes a brief look at the characteristics, pros, cons, and applications of each process, and provides a solid foundation for understanding why each is used when it is used, and when the different types of welding can or shouldn't be substituted.

Chapter 2: Shopping for Welding Equipment

In my experience, the two most common types of people, when it comes to direction, are those that don't want to understand what they are doing — either because they are impatient or don't want to challenge their minds — and want to be told what to do, and those people that want to figure it all out for themselves and hate to be told what to do. It's refreshing to find someone who understands the balance between guidance and learning. In this chapter, the author gives great pointers on what to look for in welding shop equipment — as well as some specific products — and the why behind that advice. Although the knowledge is basic it gives the reader a solid understanding of what to look for, so they can go out and do a decent job of picking out shop equipment for themselves to get started.

Chapter 3: Fitting and Cleaning

This was an informative chapter for me. While I know a good bit about welding for auto body repair, this was my first introduction to welding for fabrication of high-tech components and assemblies. This chapter does a great job of explaining not only how to fit and clean parts to be welded, but why, when, and with what, as well as where to weld — and by where I mean proper conditions and location. It also gives some interesting prep tips I'd never heard of before for pre-heating parts to allow for better weld penetration.

Chapter 4: Jigging

This chapter gives you an introduction to jigging for airframe, racecar chassis, and part assembly. While it doesn't give much in the way of hard and fast rules or plans, it does provide basic ideas, tools, and the factors that go into jig construction and use — from simple one-time assembly to complex, precise production work.

Chapter 5: TIG Welding 4130 Steel Tubing

I had no idea that TIG welding 4130 steel and stainless steel were such complex processes, or that there is so much misinformation out there about preheating and stress relieving these welded structures. While I didn't know much about TIG welding these assemblies, I do know something about stress relieving the crystalline structure of steel and the fact that someone would use a hand held welding torch to do it is utterly asinine to me. Thankfully, the author explains why it shouldn't be done, as well as how it is properly done, and beyond the ability of most people to do. He also explains in great detail why it isn't necessary to do that in order to create a high quality welded structure.

Chapter 6: TIG Welding Aluminum and Magnesium

Although aluminum welding has been a curiosity for me, I hadn't planned on doing any because of the difficulties I've heard are associated with the process — especially welding cast aluminum. This chapter has changed that for me. Provided I'm ever able to afford the equipment necessary, I've become very interested. Although I've never done it myself, the author explains that as long as you know how, it's actually quite easy. Basically, he takes a highly technical procedure — and by giving an overview and focusing in on the details — makes it easy to follow and understand. While he's doing that, he covers a lot of ground about how to weld various components from cast aluminum cylinder heads, to thin aluminum sheetmetal, to the important differences between welding aluminum and magnesium.

Chapter 7: MIG Welding Steel and Stainless Steel

To be honest, this was the chapter I was most looking forward to because most of my welding aspirations are in body repair and MIG welding is the standard. Oddly enough, by the time I got through this chapter, I ended up trying to figure out how I could afford a good TIG welder instead. Not that the author says MIG welding is bad — he explains the entire process clearly and concisely — but rather having such a clear explanation of both has brought me to have a much better understanding of what makes TIG welding so superior. That said the author goes over the subtle nuances of good MIG welding and how to weld everything from steel plate to stainless tubing.

Chapter 8: MIG Welding Aluminum and Magnesium

While the differences between TIG and MIG welding in steel are pretty profound, they become more so with aluminum and magnesium. Again, this chapter covers everything from setup to welding technique with aluminum and magnesium, as well as MIG's limitations with penetration and control. One added extra in this section, that wasn't in Chapter 6, was the process of heat-treating welded aluminum components. It wasn't explained if the reason was that TIG doesn't require the heat treating or not, but it does explain the loss of tensile strength welding has on the harder 5052 and 6061 variations.

Chapter 9: Gas Welding Steel and Stainless Steel

Like the previous two chapters on welding steel and stainless steel, this one covers the ins-and-outs — as well as the misinformation available — of using an oxyacetylene rig to perform high quality welds in both racecar and aviation fabrication. While the author states that this is the predecessor to all modern forms of welding, he also points out the superiority of TIG welding — just like he does in the rest of the book. That said his ultimate view on the subject is that no fabrication shop should be without an oxyacetylene torch.

Chapter 10: Gas Welding Aluminum

As the author points out in this chapter, most people think gas-welding aluminum properly is impossible — those people included myself. Although I'd never done it, that was what I'd heard from rumor and experienced welders alike. Finch, however, says otherwise. He states that while the applications for welding aluminum with oxyacetylene are limited, it is possible in the right circumstances. Thus he spends the chapter explaining when it is and isn't possible to weld aluminum with a gas welder and how to go about doing it.

Chapter 11: Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting fascinates me. It's versatile, apparently easy to do, and I'm told doesn't warp the metal it's cutting — even with a 50,000°+ cutting arc. Apparently that's what precision gets you. Cutting steel with an oxyacetylene torch has been around for (from what I can tell) as long as the technology itself has been around. That's a long time in this time of record technological advancement. The only problem is, it warps the metal it's cutting due to heat penetration and it can only work with steel. Plasma cutting, on the other hand, can be done on virtually any metal because there is both enough heat to melt just about anything, as well as enough control of heat penetration into the base metal to keep from damaging it, and it doesn't have to oxidize the metal to do it as with oxyacetylene cutting — which isn't possible on non-ferrous metals. This chapter covers the ins and outs of using a plasma cutting setup in a small shop as well as the more advanced computer-controlled cutting machines.

Chapter 12: Welding Shop Safety

Like many of the older people who worked with dangerous chemicals and procedures — such as welding without proper safety equipment — and realized it was a really bad idea, the author, Robert Finch has learned better over his career, and what he has to say can be summed up with "don't do it." Regardless of how tempting it may be to cut a corner on safety, just don't do it. I agree with him, as I started out messing with chemicals and dangerous procedures, and have dealt with the consequences (luckily without too much permanent damage). In this chapter, he makes quite a few practical suggestions to keep you safer in your welding endeavors and details much of the equipment you will need for safety — although I would consult training manuals with OSHA approved safety procedures, or OSHA itself on proper safety equipment and procedures before I began using welding equipment, myself.

Appendix A: Welding Supplies: Rods, Wires, and Fluxes

Throughout the book, the author has emphasized the importance of quality welding supplies to create good welds. While most appendices are strictly a list of informational resources, this book has much more. No only does it help find good welding supplies, but explains the differences between good and cheap welding materials, and the kinds of results you'll get with each, illustrating the real reason for demanding and using quality rod, wires, and fluxes.

Appendix B: Sources for Metals

Like supplies, the quality of the building materials you use makes all the difference in finished product, and if you're going to build a high tech structure, building it with poor quality components makes no sense as you are risking much including failure of the structure, as well as the health and safety of the people in the structure. Again, like Appendix A, it's more than just a list of resources. It includes explanations of what constitutes high quality metals, why they are superior, and how to find the right materials for your projects.


This book is well written, informative, and a joy to read. If you don't know much about welding, I would suggest picking up another book on welding basics, auto body welding, or even taking an introductory class before reading this one — especially if you are interested in auto body repair, as it doesn't cover welding procedures for those situations specifically — or you might get lost due to the more advanced subject matter. However, I highly recommend the Performance Welding Handbook for anyone wanting to learn how to do welding and fabrication for high tech machines.

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For more information contact Motorbooks on the web at www.motorbooks.com, by phone 1.800.826.6600, or by email at customerservice@motorbooks.com.

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